Have you ever attempted to monetise the unpaid, unseen work that is more often than not done by women? If there were a financial value to the cleaning, child-care, transporting, laundry that makes up an average stay-at-home mum’s day, what would it be?
My own modern-day, albeit somewhat cynical, experience is that generally speaking, women prop up society so that men can thrive in their careers without the inconvenience of children and laundry. The imbalance in women’s superannuationis a growing concern for Government. For now, it is convenient to the mostly male economy to have multitasking, unpaid women working in their homes.
Everyday around Australia millions of hours of unpaid work is done by women who do the majority of society’s unseen, unpaid but essential workload. Caring for children and housekeeping has remained largely a woman’s role, as if it were part of their nature or a solely female responsibility.
It is well documented that women earn less than men for doing the same job. There is just no denying the fact capitalism has a hidden partner: the woman who does unpaid domestic work. And if things were to change, the whole market would suffer the consequences.
For now, it is women of our world who suffer the social, financial, cultural and political consequences of inequality. Australia’s workforce is unacceptably unbalanced, weighted heavily in favour of men. Australian women have the double identity of being educated women with greater opportunities while still culturally confined to a domestic role.
The only way I can see women achieving equality, contributing equally to the tax pool and saving for a retirement that is equal to a man’s, is if the value of the unseen work (mostly done by women) is appropriately recognised by economists. If a value were assigned to home duties and a tax deduction implemented accordingly, the important jobs most often done by women would be considered equal to any other paid job.
The societal and economic recognition of the monetary value of behind the scenes work in the home and with children is the first step towards women being more able to choose the career they want and be paid equally for it.
Instead of acknowledging this, those in power with wealth and privilege continue to believe they achieved that power, wealth and privilege in their own strength, rather than because of any systemic circumstances that may have made their journey easier than someone else’s. Women will never be equal while they are forced into roles that are less well paid so that they’re free to continue to prop up the Australian economy with unpaid work.
Recently, my personal became political, social, cultural. The experience of one very ordinary, very average woman in her 40s demonstrates so completely how in 2019, we live in a society that is as unequal as ever, I am compelled to share it as a case study.
I look like every other 40-something mother at the school gate. I live in an ordinary suburban home in an average community in Brisbane’s outer West in a familiar hetero-normal family of five: Mom, dad, three kids, one dog and a cat. It’s a modest 800m2block in a cul-de-sac of a pleasant suburb in the catchment area of some nice schools with a dog park and a playground nearby.
But in this Stepford Wives world, my Wisteria Lane, my near-perfect teeth and glossy curvy candy lips disguise my silent screaming.
Like more than half of Australia, the line between my middle-class life and Struggle Street is paper thin, getting thinner every day. For the past three decades Australia’s cost of living has outpaced its income growth, making a single income household a financial impossibility.
Ours is a familiar story. We stretched ourselves to the maximum to buy the house we live in, having saved for a deposit most of our lives. We made the decision to live modestly in every other way so that we could afford our hefty mortgage on a single salary, allowing one parent to care for our three children.
But no matter how well we budget, we are increasingly short every month.
Although it was once possible for middle-class households to survive comfortably on one income, that is no longer realistic in Australia today.
The solution is a seemingly simple one: the time has come for our family to shift from a single-income household to a dual- income one.
Fortunately, we are both competent, educated and skilled. We have no barriers or disabilities to overcome to enter the workplace, and we don’t live in a struggling regional area where jobs are scarce, making us one of Australia’s luckier households.
Nevertheless, that shift proved more difficult to make than it would seem at first glance.
Having spent the last week pondering the matter, I’d like to share the maths, and the fallout thereof.
In pursuit of financial prosperity, or at least relief, I applied for, interviewed for and was offered a really great job. It was a good job with a good employer who had reasonable expectations for the role and offered fair renumeration. It was exactly what I wanted, and what we, on paper, needed to make ends meet.
For the purpose of this piece, let’s say the total renumeration was within reasonable market expectations at $90K per annum with 9.5% superannuation. Since approximately 58% of Australia’s population earns between $27,000 and $73,000, this was an above average number.
After deducting tax ($21,000), I would have taken home $5,750 a month or $1,430 a week. I started mentally spending it almost immediately.
The company was not nearby, not on a public transport route, and would require tolls to get there, so we factored in $200 a week for travel. That did not dampen my enthusiasm. Although difficult to imagine for anyone without children, two hours in a car in each day listening to my choice of audio book without interruption is extremely appealing. A bonus to the job in fact. The only downside was that because of the distance and the resulting travel time, the assistance our family would require fell within a 12-hour shift between 7am and 7pm.
I’ve got two words for you: Centenary Highway.
Then we had a look at childcare and the cost of replacing myself in the home.
This is where things got upsetting.
After multiple approaches at a myriad of childcare options for our three children at three schools (Kindy, Primary School and High School) and factoring in school holiday periods, childcare costs came in at an average of $800 per week, $3,200 per month, $38,400 per year. That’s with the government rebates.
And so, that salary of $90,000 minus $21,000 in annual tax, minus $38,400 in childcare became a take home of $30,600 a year, $2,550.00 a month, $637.50 a week.
Which is what one could expect to earn packing shelves at a local supermarket, a far less demanding job that would require almost no travelling and still allow one time to listen to an audio book.
And so begins my modern feminist rant.
In a tale as old as time, my bearing a greater portion of unpaid domestic work and family care gives me less time to do an official job. If I can’t afford to replace myself, I am left with the option of basic jobs which are less well paid. This gives me fewer opportunities for carreer development and makes me poorer and more vulnerable. It also increases my financial dependency on my partner. Although thankfully not the case in my life, for many women, this dependency makes them vulnerable to domestic violence and abuse. Because I can’t earn as much as my male partner, I can’t replace him as the breadwinner. This is sad for both of us, as he would appreciate the chance to spend time with his children as much as I would appreciate the opportunity for a career.
I declined the job because it was not worth the net financial gain for our family unit.
In a country where more than half of the population earn less than $80,000.00, the amount of $90,000.00 as a second income in the context of a family attempting to stave off crippling household debt by moving from a single income to a duel income household, was not financially viable. That is a direct result of there not being a financial value to my orle at home. As soon as I am forced to quantify that value in order to pay someone else to do it, the value becomes a barrier to my entry into the workforce. It’s a cycle as old as time itself.
That’s because childcare is just one part of what women do. Although the $800 a week in childcare would mean my three children were well cared for, it wouldn’t cover my other duties which include cleaning, cooking, laundry, paperwork, appointments and countless essential but unpaid jobs. I would need to fit those jobs in around my job.
I wanted that job. I at least wanted the opportunity to try it.
And I can’t help but think that if I were a man, I’d be starting on Monday.
We live in a world of politically and financially elite men with a vested interest ensuring world systems are not changed in any way that would weaken their position.
If my week is anything to go by, it seems the cycle will continue perpetually, oblivious to the not-so-silent screams of Australia, and the world’s women.